For white Southern music, a time of soul searching over Confederate flag

Fri Jun 26, 2015 3:58pm EDT
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By Alistair Bell

(Reuters) - Country singer Cody McCarver for years wore T-shirts featuring the Confederate battle flag - the "rebel flag" as he calls it -when he toured in the U.S. South as a member of the Confederate Railroad band.

Even after fights nearly broke out over merchandise sold at the group's concerts with the flag on it, McCarver continued to wear the T-shirts.

It took last week's controversy over the Confederate flag following the murder of nine worshipers at an African-American church in Charleston to fully drive home to him how divisive the symbol can be.

"It made a difference to the way I see it," said McCarver, who in 2013 briefly featured images of the flag in a video for his song, "Redneck Friends Of Mine."

The Tennessean says that while he had always seen the flag as an expression of Southern history -- and rocker rebellion -- he will no longer wear it on stage.

"I think that if, and this is a huge if, taking the rebel flag out of our society would stop racism, I am all for it," said McCarver, who quit as keyboard player for Confederate Railroad several years ago to pursue a solo career.

The Charleston killings have caused widespread soul-searching in the Southern rock and country music industry, as some artists rethink what it means to display the Confederate flag.

Country musicians are by no means a unified group. While some have embraced Republican candidates and causes, others have been outspoken in defense of gay marriage and abortion rights. Country star Tim McGraw drew both praise and fire when he endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008, as did the Dixie Chicks when they criticized President George W. Bush in 2003.   Continued...

A Confederate flag is held up by a man at a rally outside the State House to get the Confederate flag removed from the grounds in Columbia, South Carolina June 23, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder